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lunchbox comments on Generalizing From One Example - Less Wrong

261 Post author: Yvain 28 April 2009 10:00PM

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Comment author: lunchbox 17 February 2010 06:50:05AM *  16 points [-]

I think clever people are especially susceptible to the belief that their perceptions are typical. Let's say you can't visualize images in your mind, but your coworker insists that he can. Since you're not a brain scientist, you can't verify whether he's right or whether he's just misinterpreted the question. However, the last few times you had a disagreement with him on a verifiable subject, you were vindicated by the facts, so you can only assume that you are right this time as well. Add to that the fact that people's stated perceptions and preferences are frequently dishonest (because of signaling), and it's very easy to mistrust them.

One useful first step to overcoming this bias is to compare one's results on a test like UVA's Moral Foundations Questionnaire here to other segments of the population.

However, it's not enough to just learn the facts about how other people perceive the world; sometimes one has to experience them firsthand. I have always been an ambitious high achiever and used to get frustrated and confused by people who were not able to follow through with their goals. However, a few years back I had an adverse reaction to a medication, and experienced for a few hours what depression must be like. From then on, it all made perfect sense.

One day I wonder if it will be possible to alter my brain chemstry safely and temporarily so that I can experience what it is like to perceive the world as a conservative, a liberal, a luddite, a woman, a blue collar worker, a depression sufferer, a jock, an artist, etc. The impact on my emotional maturity and ability to empathize would be tremendous.

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 01:23:10AM 2 points [-]

One day I wonder if it will be possible to alter my brain chemstry safely and temporarily so that I can experience what it is like to perceive the world as...

I'd assume blue collar, artist, and depression are pretty trivial to experience, if you're curious.... Female is also eminently doable, although it'd take a lot more time and energy (and if you're set on "temporary" it's going to be even slower)

Admittedly, I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses (Indeed, I find it baffling that you haven't experienced at least a few of those!)

Comment author: Timwi 26 March 2012 01:24:11AM 4 points [-]

You seem to be using the word “experience” differently from what I understand it to mean. “To experience depression” to me would mean that you are in a depression for real. You seem to imply that you can “experience” it without actually being in it — what do you mean by that?

Note that it is not enough merely to imagine an experience. It is certainly possible to imagine oneself in a situation one has never actually been in — but the imagined experience would be a guess. It’s like imagining (assuming you are capable of visual imagery) an animal that you have never seen before from a vague description. You can only imagine what you’ve been told, but your mind fills in the details with guesses. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that you often get conflicting descriptions, because not all depressions are exactly the same.

So what do you mean when you say “I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses”? If you believe there is more to it than just your mind making guesses, what makes you believe that?

Comment author: handoflixue 26 March 2012 10:35:24PM 2 points [-]

So what do you mean when you say “I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses”? If you believe there is more to it than just your mind making guesses, what makes you believe that?

From my practice as an artist, I can look at a forest and talk about the shading, light angles, and color palette. From certain neurological quirks of mine, I can look at the forest and discuss it in a weird internal palette, or discuss the flavor of the trees (I have vision->taste synaesthesia). I can push the "be happy" button and sit contentedly. I can push the "ADD" button and want to bounce around and be in motion (music also triggers this - kinaesthetic and auditory senses overlap strongly for me, and make it very difficult to track visual data). I can push the "depression" button and realize I'm all alone, miles from company, and I'm going to have to WALK back and I'm ALREADY exhausted and tired and oh god I'm stupid what made me think this would be enjoyable (low blood sugar will also trigger this one, although it's actually pretty hard to put me in a bad mood if I'm walking and/or in a forest)

Basically, there's an absolutely HUGE amount of sensory information hitting me at any given point, and I'm aware that I'm only processing SOME of it. From there, there's an exponentially vaster sea of interpretations and patterns I can within that data - I can relate it to a wide variety of topics. So, I'm aware of this huge sheaf of possible observational angles, and can generally wander between them.

I seem to be more able to notice "I don't like this perspective / I'd enjoy seeing this from multiple angles". I seem more able to actually switch perception, although most intelligent people can at least follow what I'm doing and mimic my shifts. I also seem to have a much broader set to choose from.

Comment author: handoflixue 26 March 2012 08:17:40PM -1 points [-]

“To experience depression” to me would mean that you are in a depression for real. You seem to imply that you can “experience” it without actually being in it — what do you mean by that?

When I say "experience" depression, I mean I'm actually depressed. When I say "simulate" depression, I mean I can model the state without actually directly experiencing it. "Simulation" would line up with watching a TV show or reading a book - I react as though the characters were real, I suspend the knowledge that everyone will be OK at the end of each episode, and so on.

I was in fact talking about experience, not simulation, however.

If you want to experience being an artist, then take a drawing class and learn to draw. There isn't some special "artist" property, you just have to draw. If you want to experience being a good artist, you'll probably need to spend some time practicing. If you want to experience the community of art, well, there's a lot of those, but learn poetry and go to poetry jams. Learn writing and join a writing circle. Find a Google Group where painters chat and discuss technique. Follow art blogs.

Equally, if you want to experience being a "jock", then get in shape and join a gym that seems to have a lot of jocks. Learn to fit in with them.

Female is a bit trickier, but there's people on this site that have done male-to-female transitions. Most of it is reversible, and the main irreversible bit (surgery) is pretty optional unless you're interested in a VERY specific physical aspect of being female. I wouldn't recommend it casually, but if you're serious about wanting to explore new sensations and experience new mindsets, it's a pretty amazing change.

Comment author: helm 25 January 2011 03:21:34PM 0 points [-]

Optimism/Pessimism seems to operate on a pretty linear scale. I was very optimistic about my own future until I hit my early 20s, now after a few bouts of depression I regularly underperform. (to generalize from one example, I know I have a hard time believing some people can be depressed and productive at the same time)

What I can say with reasonable certainty is that liberals and conservatives build up different associations, retain different facts, etc, etc, which would make a temporary switch more difficult.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 25 January 2011 04:42:13PM 1 point [-]

I believe that the mood aspect of depression and the inertia aspect are almost independent from each other.

Comment author: helm 25 January 2011 06:27:05PM 0 points [-]

Interesting, I was mostly affected by the inertia aspect, which in turn spoiled my mood (from the inability to get anything done).